By Ekta R. Garg
Animal Kingdom: Lush, green and ready for spring, these animals are ready to break out of winter – and the topiary garden in which they live. Write a fanciful account of their escape and adventures they face along the way. Gear your story toward young readers, providing lots of imagery and excitement as they cut ties from their roots and race off into the real world. If you’re really up for the challenge, target an adult audience and channel your inner Stephen King.
Tessa looked over her shoulder once, just to make sure no one was following. Then she walked into the garden and smiled. The animals were moving.
When they’d first moved to Grandma Sharon’s house, Tessa had been so scared. Grandma Sharon kept hugging her and telling her everything was going to be okay. That wasn’t so bad. She made cookies every day for the first week they lived there, and Tessa loved Grandma Sharon’s cookies.
But her mom looked so sad all the time. Tessa thought moving out of their old house was supposed to be a good thing. That’s what her mom had said when they talked about it. “Don’t worry, Tess, this will be a good thing for us. We’ll be able to start fresh, you know.”
Tessa didn’t know. Well, she did, but she didn’t. She knew that her dad wasn’t coming back, but she didn’t know why. She knew that moving to Grandma Sharon’s was supposed to be a good thing, but she didn’t know what “starting fresh” meant.
The one thing she did know, though, was the secret of the animals.
She’d discovered them the second week they’d moved here. It was after Grandma Sharon stopped making the cookies, but before she stopped hugging Tessa a hundred times a day. Tessa needed to get out of the house. It wasn’t big—she had her own bedroom, but she had to share a bathroom with her mom—and by the second week Tessa knew she had to find a new place to hide. She could hear her mother crying at all hours of the day through the bathroom door.
So Tessa went exploring. The house was small, but Grandma Sharon had a prize-winning garden. People had even come from a fancy magazine the year before to take pictures of it, and Grandma Sharon lit up when she talked about the magazine people.
When she got into the garden, Tessa could see why they came to take the pictures. She’d never seen bushes and little trees shaped like animals. That first day she ran her fingers over the leaves and thought touching the animals would be the most exciting part of her day.
Then the elephant started talking to her.
“Are you here to stay or just visiting like the others?” it asked.
Tessa heard a loud pounding in her ears.
“I asked if you were here to stay.”
“Um…yeah. We came to live with my Grandma Sharon.”
The elephant nodded—it nodded!—and then stepped forward. Tessa took two steps back, but this time the elephant shook its head.
“You have nothing to worry about, little one,” it said. “My friends and I don’t wish to harm anyone. Your Grandma Sharon is a gentle woman, and I feel the same within you.”
“Are you sure?” the fox asked, although it smiled so Tessa thought maybe it was joking. It came forward too. “She looks like a wild one.”
“Hey, I’m not wild!” Tessa protested, putting her hands on her hips.
The elephant smiled.
“Well, can we trust you with a secret?” the fox asked. It dipped its head and looked around as if someone could hear them.
“What?” Tessa asked, lowering her voice as well.
“We’re going on a grand adventure in two weeks, when Spring’s time has come.”
Tessa heard that pounding in her hears again, but this time she knew why it was there. She always heard it when she got excited.
“Really?” she whispered. “Can I come?”
The fox and the elephant looked at one another for a long moment. Other animals behind them stirred and stepped forward, but they didn’t scare Tessa. She just got more excited.
The elephant nodded first, and then the fox nodded. They both turned back to her.
“All right; you may come,” the fox said.
Finally the day had come. The day the animals would go on their adventure. And when Tessa got to the garden, she could see they had begun to move. They just walked away from the tree trunks and the bush branches holding them to the ground, and they started visiting one another’s spots in the garden.
Tessa heard them talking about so many different things: birds they liked and didn’t like. The rain from last week. The dog that kept running through the garden and marking them. Just the day before the fox had allowed the dog to see him in true form, scaring the dog and sending it away whimpering and yipping.
“Ah, there is the human young one,” the elephant said. “Come, child. Would you like to ride on my back?”
Tessa looked at all the animals and found them smiling at her. She turned to the elephant and nodded, feeling so serious. When she saw the elephant’s back, though, she stopped.
“Don’t worry,” the elephant said. “I’ll fold the leaves and make them tight so they form a soft seat for you.”
In front of her eyes the leaves on the elephant’s back got flat and even more lush. Tessa stepped to the tree that used to hold the elephant in place and climbed it. The elephant came closer, and Tessa climbed onto its back.
“Are you sure, child?” the fox asked, looking at her with its flower eyes. “Our journey will take us far today, and we won’t return until night.”
Tessa could see Grandma Sharon’s house from this high up. She thought about her mother’s wet eyes and the three hugs Grandma Sharon gave her before telling her to go outside to play. She needed something different.
She needed an adventure.
“Let’s go,” Tessa said.
And they were off.